Men’s tennis looks to capture ITA Championship

New Haven, Conn., freshman Roy Smith returns a hit against UNLV on Jan. 27 in Waco. The Bears defeated the Runnin' Rebels 4-0. Ryan Barrett | Multimedia Journalist

By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor

Baylor men’s tennis looks to build off its 2-0 weekend as the Bears travel to Seattle this weekend for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Indoor Championships.

The Bears defeated Purdue 5-2 and South Florida 4-0 over the weekend, creating some momentum that head coach Matt Knoll hopes will carry over.

“It’s hard to get better without playing,” Knoll said. “Tennis is a competition sport, so we need to get out and play as many matches as we can. Two great matches, we got to play a lot of tennis and it gives us great momentum heading into this tournament.”

The ITA Indoor Championship tournament features the best 16 teams in the country, and each school is guaranteed at least three matches.

Despite the team’s youth, Baylor is confident heading west to participate. According to sophomore Bjoern Petersen, it’s the trust the Bears have in the team mentality that has them playing high quality tennis at the moment and makes them a threat this weekend.

“We are a really young team, but I think we trust in each other. We’re all super committed,” Petersen said. “I think we have a good chance to win the tournament, so that’s the reason we’re going there. It’s the best 16 teams in the country: we don’t want to go there just to be a part of it. We want to go and win matches and do our thing. So far we’re doing a really good job. We’re really young, but we all know to win matches.”

Baylor features three freshmen that have contributed on a daily basis for the Bears this season. The first is Matias Soto, who is 5-1 overall, 3-0 in dual matches and 2-1 on tour.

The other two are Sven Lah and Roy Smith. Lah is 6-5 overall, but is 5-0 in dual matches this season and has been a big lift for the Bears. Smith is 10-2 overall, including a perfect 4-0 record in dual matches.

The two have also teamed up to form a potent doubles pairing, taking a 5-1 record to Seattle.

“They’ve been great. They’ve been very committed and trusted the process and worked. They’re making a difference, and we need them to,” Knoll said. “We need to continue to get better. We need everyone to be the best self if we are going to try to achieve what we want to achieve.”

Petersen, who got off to a rocky start this season, has been excellent his last two times out on court, allowing himself to recapture the confidence in his groundstrokes.

“I was playing really well in the preseason and the first tournament and then I changed to a new racquet, which probably wasn’t the smartest decision,” Petersen said. “Two days before the matches, I decided to switch back, and I trusted my forehand again and my serve again. Those are the two most important parts of my game.”

Petersen is 6-4 overall, with a 3-2 record in both dual and tour matches. He also boasts a 3-1 record with both sophomore Constantin Frantzen and junior Jimmy Bendeck in doubles.

“He’s not really getting any favors in terms of the competition for him and he’s not going to get any moving forward,” Knoll said. “I don’t think he’s a guy who’s going to go out and win every match. That’s not what he needs to do. He needs to go out and improve and appreciate the level of completion he’s playing and make that a real positive.”

Frantzen enters with a 12-6 record overall. Junior Will Little has been playing at an exceptionally high level, boasting a 12-4 record overall, including 5-0 in dual and 7-4 on tour. Junior Johannes Schretter currently sits at 14-8 overall and Bendeck 10-9 overall.

Knoll said his expectations remain high for his team this weekend, but when it’s all said and done, it’s about continuing to grow and get better moving forward in the season.

“What’s great about this tournament is you get such great competition in a condensed period of time. We’re going to play a tough match, tough match, tough match, and it’s going to teach us a lot,” Knoll said. “That’s the best thing about making this tournament. Winning it is great, but it’s more about the process of getting better.”

Baylor (6-1) earned the No. 12 seed in the tournament and will take on No. 5 Stanford at 5 p.m. Friday.